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Doyle-Schechtman: Saint Patrick's Day Myths

03/16/12 7:55AM By Deborah Doyle-Schechtman
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(Host) Writer and commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman has been thinking about her Irish heritage - and some of the misconceptions commonly held regarding St. Patrick's Day.

(Doyle-Schechtman) It's said that on St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish, meaning that for many it's more of an aspiration than a reality. In fact, Ireland's patron saint wasn't Irish. He was born in Roman Britain at the end of the 4th century. He was captured as a teenager by the Irish and taken to Ireland where he herded sheep. By his own admission, he wasn't religious as a kid, but he started to pray during his 6 years of captivity.

Then one night God told him there was a ship that would take him home, and he needed to head to the coast to catch it. He hiked the 200 miles, found the ship and returned to Britain. There he studied for the priesthood, and after ministering in his native country for a while, God told him to return to Ireland to convert the druids and the pagans. He was made a bishop, given the name Patrick, and did just as he was bid until his death several decades later, on March 17, 461.
That St. Patrick wasn't really Irish reminded me of other misconceptions commonly held regarding the famous saint's feast day. And as it happens, there're quite a few.
First, there's the whole green thing. Truth be told, the color originally associated with St. Patrick is blue. There's even a particular shade called St. Patrick's Blue, which appears on the President of Ireland's standard.

The use of the color green is in fact politically based. True, St. Patrick employed the shamrock, initially a pagan symbol of spring, to illustrate the concept of the Trinity, but more to the point, supporters of an Independent Irish Republic wore shamrocks on their hats during the 1798 Rebellion as an emblem of solidarity. If caught, the wearer was hanged, as is vividly described in the street song of the period called Wearin' of the Green. The popular phrase Erin Go Bragh, or Ireland Forever, is another relic of those turbulent times.
It's also a myth that Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, because snakes were never native to the island, and thus there was nary a one to cast out.

Until relatively recently, there were no formal processions in Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick, either. Such parades are an Irish-American creation, one that began here during our Colonial Period. Irish immigrants gleaned corned beef and cabbage from their Jewish neighbors in the New York tenements of the mid-1800s. Green beer is also an American concoction.

As for the luck of the Irish, well, all I can say is that my ancestors had at least as many superstitions designed to keep adversity at bay as to assure good fortune.

Finally, the phrase 'Top o' the mornin'' was never uttered on the Emerald Isle by anyone born there, but ‘Never bolt the door with a boiled carrot' certainly was.
So Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone. "May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go."

(Tag) Deborah Doyle-Schechtman is a writer who divides her time between the Upper Valley and Northeast Kingdom. You can find more VPR commentaries at VPR-dot-net.
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